Work has always been a real problem for me. And I’m not sure I’ve conveyed that properly. Sometimes I write in a glib, bitchy style so I don’t have to feel vulnerable. But I think it’s so important for people to know the actual reasons so many of us have trouble keeping jobs. Yes, some of us *raises hand* are lazy. But I’ve failed a lot too.
I got fired from my post-college teaching job. I got fired from secretarial work. I don’t always interview well either. If you’re autistic, you know that we have ‘on’ days when the stars are lined up and ‘off’ days where we can’t do much of anything. I couldn’t even get through most of my internships because I’m disorganized, unable to transition between tasks, and constantly late. Plus I make rude little gaffes (you’ll know this if you follow me on Twitter!) that put employers right the fuck off.
I did have some success managing a store. But only because the owner liked me. I made a lot of mistakes that an employer who didn’t like me so much would have never put up with. I’m not sure where our reputation for meticulousness came from. I’ve always made more errors in my work than average.
Now, I’m not saying none of us work. My ex works about 60 hours a week. He has all the social problems I do, but not as many executive functioning issues. Plenty of autistic people slog along every day just like everyone else. Especially if they don’t have the safety net that I do. Yes, they’re more tired than most when they get home. They can’t do much else. I know most people say they don’t have time for lives outside work, but autistic people mean it literally. We need so much time to regroup from things. I don’t know where that time goes.
When I was teaching, I’d pass out about two hours after I got home. I couldn’t even stay up on weekends. I made mistakes. I forgot things. And I had a giant pit of anxiousness at the center of my gut every day. One morning before work, I even wet the bed. At 23.
This is common. Several aspie friends told me their Big Breakdown was when they tried to do too much at once. A lot of us also have mental health problems that rear their ugly heads with any kind of change. Maybe we haven’t all been pounding the pavement every second looking for difficult work. It’s so common for autistic people 30+ to still be living at home. It gets to a point where we know enough about our limitations to aim for what we can do.
Most plans to employ autistic people are pretty short-sighted. They think it’s just about social skills. It’s not. Some whippersnapper who wants tax breaks for shoving us in a corner and Making Us Work won’t solve any of our other problems. (Especially if they’re not paying us fairly.) Truth is, most of us spergs just can’t handle as much as most people. That includes stress, hours worked, friendships; sometimes even time spent on special interests. My dad used to harass me about why I couldn’t “handle life.” He’s eased up on that now.
There are enough people out there who really do want to help us though. I talked to Thorkil Sonne from Specialisterne. He’s a really nice guy. If anyone who employs people on the spectrum is reading this, I want you to know that our problems are as much about sensory overload and time management as they are about not being up with people. If we try to keep up with neurotypicals for too long, we’ll experience burnout. I don’t have any concrete recommendations at the moment, but if you ask any autistic about burnout they’ll have plenty to say.
I’ll start looking for something part-time soon. A job. Not a career. I’m still hoping I can write a book and be famous and have some earnest professor 500 years from now glowering at drunk English 101 students about how well Gwendolyn Kansen encapsulates being an outsider. But right now I’d be happy to find something that gets me out of the house. I do get some emails, usually from newly-diagnosed people, about how my blog has made them feel a bit better. And that means the world to me. But I’d also like to get out into the world every day and make a difference that I can physically see. No matter how small.